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Archive for the ‘NZ Politics’ Category

SHANE RETI TELLING IT HOW IT IS

with 3 comments

National’s Dr Shane Reti will have upset all those who claim that since the signing of the treaty it has been all downhill for Maoridom when he reminded us on Newshub that life expectancy for Maori has improved over time from 30 years in 1840 to 73.4 years today. Simple statement of fact. Sure more work has to be done to address the gap that exists between Maori and Pakeha in health outcomes but its not all a one way street. Personal responsibility including diet and exercise has a part to play also.

But he made it clear in the same interview that the success of Maori health providers in dealing with the Covid pandemic was proof positive there was no need for a separate Maori Heath Agency which would be disbanded when National takes over the treasury benches. Clearly his focus is on outcomes unencumbered by ideological driven placebos.

Reti has the ability and nous and coalface experience to be an outstanding Minister of Health.

Those who claim National is soft on co-governance should take note. Three Waters dead in the water; the Maori Health Authority likewise.

Written by The Veteran

May 15, 2022 at 11:24 am

HE WHO PAYS THE PIPER

with 2 comments

Tis said that economists oft resemble accountants minus the personality. Cameron Bagrie certainly fits that mold. That aside I have generally supported his views on the economy.

But I do find it surprising that he should label National’s proposed ditching of the 39% tax rate and the indexation of tax brackets as inflationary while ignoring the effect of the additional six billion dollar spending increase foreshadowed in next weeks budget. $1.6b in peoples hands to save/spend/reduce debt vs $6b of new government spending from a mob whose hallmark is ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’ and tell me just which one makes better sense in a country where the government is leveraging off its credit card and refining borrow and hope to new levels.

The government’s investment of $45m plus into the Public Journalism Fund continues to reap dividends for them. Extensive coverage of Bagrie’s view on National’s tax cuts proposal and nary a mention of the effect on inflation of the government’s additional $6b spend up.

Written by The Veteran

May 12, 2022 at 1:19 pm

‘THEIR’ WILLIE BEING A DICK

with 2 comments

Someone much better than I once described Willie Jackson as like Trevor Mallard without the charm … I couldn’t possibly comment but Jackson’s unloading on David Seymour over ACT’s alternative budget shows a Minister under pressure choosing to play the man and not the ball when he attacked Seymour’s Maoriness effectively labeling him as an ‘Uncle Tom’ or a ‘House Nigger’.

Seymour doesn’t need me to defend him but Jackson, as a leader in Labour’s Maori caucus, would be better employed defending his government’s abysmal record in measured outcomes for Maoridom. A record that has seen rents go through the roof; a ballooning of hospital waiting lists for elective surgery; continuing problems in Maori educational achievement and attainment coupled with a rise in truancy; Maori unemployment remaining above the national average in eleven out of twelve of the nations regions (over 10% in the Waikato and 9% or thereabouts in the BOP, Gisborne/Hawkes Bay, Taranaki and Northland) and the active fostering of a ‘John Frum’ attitude among certain sections of Maoridom.

Seymour has a right to his views and at least he has put them out there in the public arena for debate ahead of the election. Something Willie your mob never did with Three Waters, He Puapua and the Health restructuring reforms last time round.

And one other thing Willie … Seymour, unlike you, is in Parliament in his own right as an electorate MP. You snuck in the back door as a List only MP first for the Alliance Party (1999-2002) and then for Labour in 2017. Clearly you prefer others to do the hard yards for you. Spot the difference.

Written by The Veteran

May 11, 2022 at 5:14 pm

Posted in NZ Politics

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ON POLLS AND OTHER THINGS

with 7 comments

Polls are but a snapshot of history looking backwards. What you look for are trends and you can fairly argue that the trends evident over the last few months are reflected in Roy Morgan and the Newshub Reid polls released earlier this week. If you aggregate the results of those two polls they show National at 39% going up; Labour at 35.85% going down; the Greens at 9.45% and steady (and I have to say I find that surprising); ACT at 8.2% and steady and the Maori Party at 2.25% and edging up.

Putting that altogether and assuming always the Maori Party retains its Waiariki electorate seat and factoring in the wasted vote and it shows a coalition of the centre-left (Labour/Green/Maori Party) fractionally ahead of of the centre-right (National/ACT). Clearly National has more work to do in shaking loose soft Labour support. It will be helped by the close to 50% that see the country moving in the wrong economic direction (vs the 43% that say the government is doing OK) and the 77% that think the government has not done enough to address the cost of living crisis (let alone housing or hospital waiting lists or an education sector going backwards by virtually every metric).

It is a truism that governments tend to lose elections rather than oppositions winning them and while I’m no economist I certainly think that in respect of the cost of living crisis Labour has adopted a ‘off the wall’ solution of trying to spend its way out of inflation by borrow and hope. Good luck with that.

The Mallard trespass saga continues and clearly Ardern has thrown him under a bus further diminishing the office of Speaker although I find it inconceivable that Mallard did not give her a ‘heads up’ on the proposed action. And now the revelation that all parties in Parliament were consulted over whether ex MPs should be exempted from any trespass action with only ACT saying that they should be. Why ACT thinks ex MPs should be deserving of special treatment over any other people fingered for trespass action fair beats me …. a huge own goal (vomit inducing to parody Tom H’s comment on another thread). There is nothing so ex as an ex MP as I suspect any number of Labour MPs will find out in seventeen months time. Luxon had it exactly right when he said it was time to move on from this and that trespass action should be reserved for those who actually rioted as opposed to the many like King and Peters who protested peacefully.

The Speaker is supposed to have the respect of the House. Mallard has by his many actions forfeited that respect. I know it would be a big call but Labour would be well advised to ‘engineer’ a graceful exit from Parliament for him. As he is a List MP it would be a no fuss exit. Ambassador to Russia …. there’s a thought. He would go down well in Moscow with his bully mates from the Kremlin.

Written by The Veteran

May 5, 2022 at 2:48 pm

Posted in NZ Politics

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GOING WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD

with 12 comments

So can I ask … where the hell is ‘Jethro’. Didn’t accompany the PM on her trip to S’pore or Japan. MIA for her ANZAC Day speech. The TV work seems to have dried up. Women’s Day/Weekly seems to have gone silent on the wedding.

So many questions, so few answers.

Updated …. I have since been forwarded an article that suggests that CG did go on the trip. Nevertheless, questions remain about his increasingly low profile compared with yesteryear.

Written by The Veteran

May 4, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Posted in NZ Politics

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ON MATT KING

with 18 comments

Matt King left National to form his own political party. The New Zealand political landscape is littered with the corpses of those who have tried to go it alone and one suspects that MK will soon find himself consigned to the dustbin of history. He will be facing a reinvigorated National Party electorate machine that is establishing new branches (the new Russell Branch is holding its inaugural meeting tonight with two additional branches in the process of forming) and raking in new members and cash. He will have to contend with the simple message that a vote for Matt King is a vote for Willow-Jean Prime … the Labour Party incumbent MP.

But all that aside it is simply wrong that Speaker Mallard has acted to trespass MK from the precincts of Parliament for two years for his part in the protest that took place on Parliament’s grounds. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong but, as I understand it, ex MPs are entitled as of right to dine at Bellamys and enjoy unfettered access to Parliament’s Library facilities for research purposes. So his rights as a former MP have been revoked …. something that didn’t happen to Taito Phillip Field, the disgraced former Labour Party Cabinet Minister, jailed for six years after having been found guilty of bribery and corruption charges as well as 15 counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Clearly one rule for MK and another for Field and we won’t even ask why a certain WRP hasn’t also been trespassed for his actions in joining with the protesters to “encourage them to demand that they be heard”. Clearly double standards rule OK. New Zealand the way you’ve got it.

Updated 12.34 … just announced … Winston Peters has also been trespassed from Parliament … Gueez Wayne, luv him or hate him, this guy was a Deputy Prime Minister and (for a time) Acting Prime Minister. He’s also a Member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council (the Rt Hon bit). There will be repercussions.

Written by The Veteran

May 3, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Posted in NZ Politics

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An RNZAF Air Combat Capability Redux – Part 2

with 26 comments

Could an ANZAC solution be the way forward and how could it work?

Op Ed by Ueda Station

In Part One I proposed that a workable solution to revive a Kiwi Air Combat Capability was for New Zealand to acquire and then integrate an air combat component into the RAAF Air Combat Wing structure. I prefaced this by noting that New Zealand is likely to be seriously tested as grey zone threats (“The grey zone includes cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns and falls short of an actual shooting war”) and geo-strategic competition ramps up across all relevant domains – especially in the merged air-maritime context of the South Pacific and that a tactical air combat capability is becoming increasingly an imperative for New Zealand.

Of the current RAAF multi-role strike platforms, namely the F-35A, the EA-18G Growler, and the twin seat Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet – it is my view that the logical solution is the Super Hornet. It has the best overall fit with what the RNZAF needs to generate an air combat component in terms of its affordability and our required employment contexts in the years ahead. Principally this is long-range maritime strike, tactical reconnaissance and airborne electronic warfare. Nevertheless as the Super Hornet is a multi-role combat aircraft it can be called upon to conduct a wide range of other missions as directed by the New Zealand Government. Since the Super Hornet uses the probe and drogue air to air refueling system it could quickly become interoperable with our new C-130J-30 Hercules. By retrofitting Cobham re-fuelling kits on the Hercules they can act as an air-tanker for a Kiwi Super Hornet mission package. That is something that its F-35A or F-16V brethren cannot do. Fitted with conformal and drop tanks, plus this air-tanker support, we would possess a strike platform that can then project out to a significant volume of airspace within our South Pacific and Southern Ocean areas of immediate strategic interest. All together as a package the Super Hornet is a very formidable multi-role force enabler and force projection capability – particularly within the cross-domain air-maritime context.

A Kiwi Super Hornet component that is integrated into the RAAF air combat fleet fleet solves the complexity and cost of trying to rebuild a tactical air combat capability from scratch. The synergies of learning and building up a new platform capability like the Super Hornet alongside a mature system operator like the RAAF, will greatly truncate the time, complexity and cost that the RNZAF will spend rebuilding the capability. It would be embedding into an established operational fleet, with existing training, support and sustainment structures in place and New Zealand would simply be paying our fair share of the bills to the contracted firms providing this – principally Boeing Australia, GE and Raytheon. New Zealand would also be expanding the operational synergies and strategic weight to the combined Anzac force structure and achieve economy of scale advantages to boot.

Though I do not have the latest annual cost of operations for RAAF 1 SQN’s Super Hornets the best projected estimate using Australian National Audit Office and Australian Budget figures are that the full extracted cost to operate their 24 F/A-18F capability is AU$245m per annum. A simple extrapolation of those figures means that if New Zealand were to contribute to the operation and sustainment of 12 additional aircraft to the existing 24 RAAF Super Hornet would it cost a further AU$122.5m p.a (NZ$135m) on top of this. Of that amount around $50 million would go towards the contracted support providers, the remainder is the cost of direct operational costs such as fuel, expended weapons, salaries, and administration.

However the clock is ticking if we want brand new Super Hornet aircraft. An incoming New Zealand government in 2023 would need to immediately start a dialogue with the Australian and United States governments to offer a proposal that focuses on the win-win aspect for all three nations in how a Kiwi component towards a joint RAAF-RNZAF Super Hornet squadron would work. It will have to move quickly to secure what might be the final production slots on the Super Hornet line at the Boeing St Louis plant. The US Navy wants to start redirecting money away from new-build Super Hornets and squirrel it towards its future NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) project as well as buy more carrier based F-35C’s. The House and Senate are not so convinced. A US$900 million budget extension in FY 2022 for the production of 12 new-build Super Hornets was a late inclusion in the revised 2022 National Defense Authorization Act unveiled by the House and Senate Armed Services committees on Dec. 7 last year following pressure from Mid-West based Senate and Congress members. But that was in extremis, and only for 12 further aircraft, to keep the St Louis production line busy through to Christmas 2024. Maybe another production block of 12 aircraft forced through in FY23 by House and Senate Armed Services committees could happen but that is as yet highly uncertain.

Like what happened with the final run of C-17’s these final 12 Super Hornets will possibly end up being “Whitetails”, meaning they are unlikely to be assigned USN serial numbers and will eventually become available on the open market as a commercial sale. So a narrow window of opportunity exists for New Zealand to take advantage of these final production aircraft – the worry would be if oil rich Kuwaiti grabs them first as they, along with the RAAF, are the only other operators of this aircraft type.

If the circumstances and timing were such that New Zealand could acquire these final dozen Super Hornets we should seize the opportunity. A Kiwi squadron of 10 operational aircraft and a training flight contribution of 2 aircraft embedded within the RAAF force structure would cost us US$900 million (NZD$1.33B). This is the “Gross Weapon System” (GWS) cost for the latest Block III Advanced Super Hornet variant, based on the US Department of Defence contract last December with Boeing for delivery in late 2024. Though the actual fly-away build cost of the Advanced Super Hornet is US$67.161 million per unit – the higher GWS cost is the true cost in that it allows for initial support, spares, training etc.

If new build Block III F/A-18F’s were not available there is the alternative option of acquiring used ex USN F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornets that have all gone through the same spiral upgrades as the RAAF aircraft. To give you an idea of the cost of a used Super Hornet, the value of ex US military aircraft is based on a US Government Accounting Office calculation of current airframe hours deducted from the US Navy Specification SD-565-3-2 structural fatigue safe life standard, which in the case of the Super Hornet is 6000 flying hours. This is calculated by a percentage value that corresponds to the original GWS cost of the aircraft when delivered new to the US Navy. For example if the GWS cost was originally US$77.3 million per unit (the historical GWS average cost) and the aircraft in USN service had flown circa 4500 hours of its 6000 hour limit, then its present value would be 25% of its original GWS cost when new. In other words that Super Hornet would be now worth US$19.3 million dollars if sold to New Zealand as an US Excess Defence Article.

However, all these aircraft would require undergoing Boeing’s Super Hornet Service Life Modification (SLM) program. The first phase is an 18-month process of inspection, modification, repair and restoration that will extend the service life of the aircraft from its current 6000 flight hour (SD-565-3-2 limitation) to 7500 flight hours. During this phase, each Super Hornet is extensively disassembled, thoroughly inspected, and undergoes a restoration and repair process that takes 5000 man-hours at a cost of US$11.45 million per aircraft. At the end of this first phase the aircraft would be technically the same as the RAAF Block II but with an additional 2000 hours on their airframes. Nevertheless, an airframe that had 4500 hours prior to Phase 1 of the SLM would be able to fly for a further 15 years or around another 3000 flying hours in USN service flying off their Carriers. The reality though is that the refreshed Super Hornets would now be using military runways like RAAF Amberley and RNZAF Ohakea where the structural load stresses on the airframe are far less than the undulating short deck of a Carrier with catapults and arrestor gear. This alone can extend their structural fatigue safe life by a further 1000 flying hours (based on fatigue testing difference between carrier and non carrier airframes), which would give enough annual flying hours to see these ‘refreshed’ Super Hornets through to the late 2040’s.

For around NZD$46-50m per aircraft this “refreshed airframe” approach is a reasonable option. The only foreseeable issue is that the majority of them available would be the single seat F/A-18E model as they have numerically been the dominant variant of the USN Super Hornet fleet. This does have some repercussions in that the tactical reconnaissance role won’t have the same level of capability output or situational awareness due to the loss of the back seat role. It still can be done, but the pilot workload increases. If the decision is made to go down the cheaper “refreshed airframe” route it may be worth considering slightly increasing the number of airframes from 12 to 15, to allow for 12 single seat E models for operational tasking and 3 additional twin seat F models for training based at Amberley. These 15 airframes could be delivered in annual tranches of 3, starting with the 3 F models for training and the subsequent E models over the next four years. With the 2-year delay between ordering these “refreshed” aircraft and the Phase 1 upgrade process and delivery, prospective aircrew could start their training process. The expectation that 15 “refreshed” ex USN Block II Super Hornets would cost circa NZD$700-750 million to acquire. This compares to NZ$1.33 Billion for 12 new build Advanced Block III aircraft.

The future second phase of the SLM program, which can eventually run concurrently but over a further 12-month process, will see extensive additional modifications where the aircraft is effectively remanufactured to Advanced Super Hornet Block III standard like the most recent new-build aircraft now coming off the St Louis line. It is very likely that the RAAF Super Hornet and Growler fleet will be upgraded to Block III Advanced status within the next ten years. This Block III service life + upgrade which will roll out across the USN’s Block II fleet over the next 15 years adds another layer of utility and capability to the platform.

Some significant points stand out. Each airframe is essentially remanufactured to ensure a SD-565-3-2 airframe life of over 10,000 flying hours. Engine upgrades will see a 20% increase in thrust and fuel economy and combat range is extended by 20%. There is a 10% reduction in radar cross-section (RCS), and a further drop in RCS is achieved by use of ‘Have Glass IV’ like external stealth coating and a conformal fuel tank option is available increasing range even further. On the avionics side the mission computer, cockpit, and sensors have capabilities nearly on par with the F-35A. As yet there is no reported costing estimate available for the Block III upgrade as the Phase 2 SLM wont be given an allocated budget appropriation until FY24. Nevertheless consideration must be made for this future upgrade package, as it would seemingly be a wise synergetic circumstance in the context of the RAAF’s future F/A-18F and EA-18G developmental pathway.

But an air combat capability for New Zealand is not all about high level threats against the PLA(N) and PLA(AF) conducted under the umbrella of a joint Anzac air task force. Eventually, an Ohakea based squadron of 10-12 aircraft would also enable the RNZAF to conduct what is known as the Tactical Air Support for Joint Defence Operational Training role and thus provide the NZDF with greater integrated training across the land and maritime domains. These are tactical support and training roles that were a routine aspect of the former Air Combat Wing, which disappeared when the A-4K capability was disbanded.

Tactical Air Support (TAS) to Joint Defence Operational Training, are force enabler activities, which assist wider Defence Force elements in generating their readiness and training. TAS encompasses:

  • Air Defence training for RNZN and RAN Frigates,
  • Land-Air Integration Training for NZ Army Battalion Group Exercises,
  • JTAC/FAC training for 1 NZSAS and 1 RNZIR,
  • DACT for RAAF and other Pacific Forces,
  • OpFor(Air) for ADF/NZDF Exercises.

The TAS role is expanding now to include tactical support missions at the lower end of the threat spectrum such as Low Intensity Close Air Support for SASO (Stability and Support Operations) missions, Rapid Tactical Reconnaissance in HADR (Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief) situations, Maritime Enforcement Support in our Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ – think the Kin Nan incident) and would give New Zealand a baseline domestic Air Security & Response capability for our AIDZ (Air Defense Identification Zone). Therefore just on these wider joint operational training and direct security benefits alone, bringing back a squadron sized tactical air combat component is not just a smart and prudent strategic hedge, but adds real depth to our wider force training competency and security posture. This is irrespective of it being primarily a deployable frontline kinetic combat asset within a Joint RNZAF-RAAF air strike package.

Building up to a 12-15 aircraft Kiwi air combat contribution would expand the joint RAAF-RNZAF Super Hornet fleet to 36-39 airframes, allowing for the eventual generation of two expeditionary squadrons each with 12 operationally tasked aircraft. The remaining element of 12-15 training aircraft based at RAAF Amberley would remain as the core pipeline for RNZAF and RAAF aircrew training as well as high level depot support and sustainment. If for any reason the Australian Government wanted to independently deploy its own “expeditionary” squadron and the New Zealand Government had reservations about such a move, the Australians are still free to do so within the context of their own existing airframe numbers. New Zealand would not detract from them being able to operationally uncouple and pursue its own defence needs. The core training structure would be intact. Likewise, if New Zealand noted a rise in direct grey zone security challenges, for example in the eastern South Pacific, to provide a presence and deterrence tasking, and Australia likewise did not feel it was in a position to commit its own assets towards this, New Zealand would still be in a position to do so with our own assets. Since both countries will always possess their claims of an independent foreign policy when push comes to shove, being integrated as per the above force structure does not restrict or force both countries to go against their independent stances on particular issues.

An incoming New Zealand government, as part of its air combat capability proposal to Australia, would also need to work with the RAAF in establishing a pipeline for Kiwi aircrew for Fast Jet Pilot (FJP), Air Warfare Officer (AWO) and ground technician courses – to prepare aircrew for that leap from our 14 SQN T-6C Texan II’s into the Super Hornet. The creation of a separate new LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) capability like we had with the Aermacchi MB-339C is unnecessary and costly for the small size of our future air component. Obviously the New Zealand government would have to pay their way for each aircrew candidate seat on each FJP, AWO and Ground Support Technician courses. The competency of the RNZAF T-6C Texan is such that Phase 1 of the 14 week Introductory Fighter Course, can be carried out at Ohakea, before aircrew move to Phase 2 LIFT training on the BAE Hawk with RAAF 79 SQN at Pierce. Following Phase 2 of the LIFT course aircrew progress to a 20 week advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons course with RAAF 76 SQN at Williamtown.

Fortunately there is some spare annual flying hours capacity within the RAAF Hawk fleet to train 2-3 Kiwi aircrew per annum, through both the Phase 2 LIFT course and advanced weapons courses as the RAAF are flying just 4050 annual flying hours on the Hawk fleet, which has the latent capacity to fly well over 6000 annual hours. Obviously, the New Zealand government will need to pay a pro-rata percentage of the AU$180m annual cost of the RAAF Hawk trainer capability for each candidate FJP and AWO. There are no current RAAF figures at hand regarding the cost per student pilot, however the closest comparison would be the Hawk T-2 at RAF Valley, which has a cost per student of £2.7m or NZ$5.2m through the Phase 2 LIFT and advanced weapons courses. The Canadian and RAF Phase 2 LIFT and Weapons courses possibly are alternate training options – if for any reason an RAAF course has a capacity issue.

Only once those two phases on the BAE Hawk are completed could Kiwi aircrew progress through to type conversion on the F/A-18F Super Hornet with 1 SQN’s training flight at RAAF Base Amberley. This eight-month long operational conversion course covers all facets of F/A-18F flight operations from the basics of flying the aircraft through to conducting complex tactical sorties including electronic warfare, tactical reconnaissance and maritime strike. From start to finish following around 3 years and 6 months of training on the Texan, Hawk and Super Hornet would the newly minted Kiwi aircrew will be considered operational.

There is also a way to truncate this length of time on the aircrew training front and kick-start a locally based capability faster. This can be achieved by the use of qualified FJP’s and AWO’s who are eligible for a lateral transfer into the RNZAF from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States of America. The NZDF already has a number of slots for personnel from our FVEY (Five Eyes) partner nations in highly specialist war-fighting roles who are eligible to serve as they either hold a Permanent Residence Visa with indefinite stay or following consideration from the Minister under s72 of the Immigration Act in light of their critical skills. This could be a way forward in that we would start with a mix of established experienced aircrew from our FVEY partner nations on short-service commissions, along with RNZAF graduate aircrew selected for the Super Hornet assignment. Of particular note this may be very useful with respect to getting hold of experienced Qualified Weapons Instructors, Qualified Flying Instructors and Qualified Air Warfare Instructors with Fast Air backgrounds.

When capacity is built up on the training and personnel side and sufficient New Zealand owned Super Hornets are in service, eventually we would begin to transfer operational aircraft and crew back home across the Tasman (leaving a permanent joint training attachment at RAAF Amberley for our ongoing training requirements). Working with Boeing Australia, who is the prime support and sustainability contractor to the RAAF fleet, a small Ohakea based operational maintenance and unscheduled repairable item replacement facility similar to what exists within RAAF 1 SQN would be required. This would include provision for hangar space, considerations for weapons storage, test and support equipment, administration, line maintenance facilities and potentially a flight simulator. A budget for this would have to be further investigated. However as an example of the size and scope of this facility, it possibly would be similar to RNZAF 3 SQN’s $43 million aircraft maintenance facility at Ohakea. Under this proposed integrated (though partially distributed) basing model our higher levels of depot level maintenance, engine sustainment, and general fleet support on the aircraft would still remain under the existing Boeing Australia, GE and Raytheon sustainment and support contracts that have already been in place for 12 years.

So there you have it folks, a pathway to a redux of the RNZAF air combat capability. One that can affordably provide New Zealand what it requires to cover our own direct air power needs, but also deliver a timely and appropriate force enabler to our closest and officially only defence ally – Australia. One that can get that 7th and vital Anzac expeditionary air combat squadron over the line in just about the time we and our other regional partners are going to need it. Without it the 2030’s could be very bleak.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 25, 2022 at 1:00 pm

An RNZAF Air Combat Capability Redux – Part 1

with 15 comments

Could an ANZAC solution be the way forward and how could it work?

Op Ed by Ueda Station

The strategic context we are now moving into is not benign and represents significant challenges for New Zealand. The South Pacific is now the soft underbelly of the Indo-Pacific region and the merged air-maritime domain is where we are likely to be increasingly threatened. China has now breached the first island chain with its defence ‘relationship’ with the Solomon Islands and this strategic foothold for Beijing will see it will begin to further engage in the use of sharp power tactics. China will increase the tempo of naval and air tasking deep into the South Pacific and indeed the foothold in Honiara will permit the opportunity for it to disrupt and coerce defence and civilian operations of both New Zealand and Australia from its newly acquired sphere of influence. Over time China will translate this advantage into an Anti-access and Area denial (A2AD) strategy. Simply put, freedom of access into the South Pacific as we know it will simply get much more harder, which will effect – trade, travel, communities, families, resources, the economy – indeed the South Pacific the way it wants to be. It is a modus operandi that is classic Sun Tzu as seen in the South China Sea over the last 15 years.

This is a radical change of circumstances for us in comparison to the context of how we as Kiwi’s saw the Pacific 10 – 20 – 30 years ago, when rational though naive decisions were made to let go of our core defence capabilities that possessed strategic projection and resilient deterrence. We seemingly believed that we did not need them at the time, nor ever would. Our political discourse made a ‘soft power’ approach to defence a more virtuous direction of travel. This introversion by New Zealand has created a strategic vacuum, particularly in our South Pacific front yard. One that is wide open to exploitation from state actors, like China and potentially Russia, who have a completely different set of value judgments concerning the environment, societal cohesion, free markets, human rights, rule of law and the positive role of liberal democracy in bringing about equity and prosperity.

Though our benign strategic environment is now dead, the issue our Defence Force faces, hindered by the Helen Clark era acquisition blunders, is that we are woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead. Furthermore, New Zealand must explicitly understand, as we have failed to do for the last 25 years, that Australia as the regional ‘smart power’ possessing actual combat capabilities – cannot alone do all the heavy lifting on behalf of us in the South Pacific. We as Kiwi’s need to share this responsibility and be proactive about it, because as a nation we could quickly lose favour with Canberra, Washington, Brussels, London, Tokyo, Singapore and other ASEAN nations to our economic detriment. Tokyo learnt the hard way in 1991 during the first Gulf War that being “content to benefit from the efforts of the rest of the international community while avoiding taking direct responsibility” had its costs. (Freedman and Karsh 1993, p121). Democratic Leader of the House Richard Gephardt sent a letter to Prime Minister Kaifu threatening major export restraints on Japanese automobiles into the United States if Japan failed to make what U.S. policy makers deemed to be a sufficient contribution to the war effort. Gephardt’s letter was reiterated by US Secretary of State James Baker and later by US Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady. In the end the US, UK, the Gulf States and France forced Japan to pay for 20% of the costs of the first Gulf War, some US$22 Billion and Bush 41 then vomited all over the Japanese PM as a thank you. Don’t think for a minute that any of the above Capitals in our wider region will let a laggard New Zealand off lightly if things go pear shape and we prevaricate or want to virtue signal off our own song sheet.

In light of this strategic upheaval the reality is that it is not possible go back 25 years to a 40 aircraft, 3 Squadron, Air Combat Wing anytime soon. To build back an air combat capability at the level as we previously had is too hard, too time consuming and too expensive. Any future Kiwi air combat capability needs to address our existing capability gaps with respect to maritime strike, airborne electronic warfare and tactical airborne reconnaissance. To maximise and future proof the capability any platform will need to also have the fullest possible utility to deal with the spectrum of issues that are coming down the pipeline over the next 20 years. It will need to deal with grey zone disruptors and A2AD tactics. The employment context required is very different from the time of the A-4 Skyhawk. A re-hash of the traditional close air support role of the A-4 Skyhawk with a bit of maritime strike on the side is not what this capability is about in the 21st Century. In fact the cancelled F-16 was going to take the RNZAF air combat capability fully into the 21st century by the time it had been upgraded to Block 50 Falcon Up standard at the end of its 10 Year lease. These future employment contexts for the F-16 were known within air staff planners, but somehow those critics commentating from outside the acquisition team thought that the F-16 capability was simply just a faster A-4.

A modern multi-role air combat platform allows for air power to be distributed across not just the air domain, but also the maritime and land domains to achieve certain kinetic effects or assist another platform, like a P-8A or special forces element, in achieving those kinetic effects. These kinetic effects can be lethal or non-lethal, offensive or defensive in application. Due to their agility and pace within a hostile threat environment air combat assets are cornerstone force enablers to get things done – a flexible, fast way to deliver support at the tactical level, through a multitude of payload packages. The flexibility is such that these can be maritime strike, tactical reconnaissance, electronic warfare (EW), combat air patrols (CAP), close air support (CAS), interdiction, air security, air superiority, or suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) – all on the single platform. It is not a silo capability but a combat capability that integrates the air domain with the land and maritime domains like no other. Air combat platforms have now become highly versatile and reconfigurable, allowing adaptation to a wide range of roles generating an even greater combat efficacy. Boyd’s loop of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) is a key part of this cross-domain synergy and an air combat capability is a core determinant in connecting this loop.

It is becoming obvious that we as a country need to do something and fairly quickly, because the strategic context is now very different from when Helen Clark was on the 9th floor of the Beehive. So if rehashing the past approach we took with the former air combat wing is not viable and having no air combat capability is potentially an even worse state of affairs – what do we do now? How do we solve the problem?

The solution to the Kiwi air combat dilemma lies with New Zealand seeking capability integration with the RAAF. The overarching driver to make this happen is the 1991 Closer Defence Relations Agreement (CDR) between New Zealand and Australia, which exists to seek an evolutionary process of examining the practical possibilities of cooperation in aspects of training, doctrine and equipment procurement. Such mutual defence cooperation could be a transitional situation like the current RAF-Qatar Eurofighter/Hawk joint squadron set up, or could be a permanent RNZAF-RAAF joint force operation. Personally, I think a hybrid of the two would work best, where the sustainment, support, training and doctrinal development remains within the RAAF structure, but New Zealand is able to eventually generate an independent Ohakea-based expeditionary sized squadron.

The idea of a integrating our air combat capability within the RAAF force structure is not a new one. Back in 1991 our fellow No Minister contributor Wayne Mapp first suggested the idea in an article he published in the Spring edition of Policy titled Restructuring New Zealand’s Defence Force as one of the future options. Thirty years on as Cold War 1.0 ended and we are now well along the way inside Cold War 2.0 Wayne’s suggestion may have found its time and place.

The RAAF themselves are now taking a whole-of-force approach to airpower application where the capabilities of individual platforms are enhanced by networking across their joint force. This produces sophisticated cooperative engagement effects by linking their distributed sensor platforms with their effector platforms through the sharing of critical mission data and situational awareness to circle the Boyd OODA loop. Their air power strategy focuses on effects, including deterrence, denial, influence, counter-influence, counter-coercion and cost imposition. Through Project Jericho they have begun to arrange this strategy to ensure that their new sophisticated platforms, like the P-8A, MQ-4C, F-35A, KC-30, EA-18G Growler, E-7A, E-55 and F/A-18F all have relevance in the emerging cross-domain grey-zone scenarios and can then provide the Australian government with flexible options. Within that strategic air power context – and there really is no escaping it now whatever wishful conceits some may have here – New Zealand has to find its place in this reality and proactively contribute.

By 2023 the RAAF will fly 72 F-35A, 12 EA-18G Growlers and 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, across five operational squadrons. They will also retain a residual number of 24 F-35A aircraft pooled in 2 OCU for training and fleet replacement reserve. They have future acquisition options under Phase 7 of Project AIR 6000, (link is to Phase 2A/B) which will consider an additional purchase of 28 further airframes to form a fourth and potentially fifth operational squadron at RAAF Base Amberley, generating a total of around 100 F-35A’s. The F/A-18F Super Hornet is tasked as their main maritime strike platform and is crewed by a Pilot and Air Warfare Operator in the back seat. The fleet of 24 aircraft usually average 4800 hours per annum, which is around 200 annual flying hours per aircraft. Finally the EA-18G Growler, which is an evolved F/A-18F is the main electronic attack platform with an Electronic Warfare Operator in the rear.

In the second part of this commentary I will offer my suggestion as to which of these RAAF aircraft is the platform that would work best for New Zealand in re-establishing an integrated air combat capability with Australia. Affordability is always going to be an issue, and people will ask why not the F-16’s as they are potentially cheaper? In reply I would say that a similar new capability of 12 F-16V Block 70’s, even though it is an absolutely cracker of a strike platform, would see New Zealand spend in the ballpark of twice the cost with respect to real acquisition costs. We would also have to spend a lot more time and money rebuilding such a capability, as we would lack the advantage of partnership integration with the RAAF. Going down that route will take twice as long and twice as much, unless the Singaporeans or Yanks help us big time.

By 2026 according to Treasury’s December 2021 HYEFU New Zealand is going to have a projected GDP of $413.7 Billion and core crown debt of $137.9 Billion, some 30.2% of GDP. Since New Zealand loves to benchmark Scandinavian countries in public policy, if we want to use them as a guide to where they are going with respect to defence spending, Norway and Denmark have set a target of 2% of GDP by 2028 and neutral Sweden and Finland are almost begging to be let into NATO, which also has a 2% target. If we take out the P-8A and C-130J projects New Zealand is still only spending around 1.2% of GDP. The bounce up to 1.4% and 1.5% over the last couple of years is entirely down to these two projects almost running simultaneously, once they’re delivered we will likely drift back to an underwhelming 1.2%, which will not gain influence and keep friends in a deteriorating Indo-Pacific region.

If New Zealand’s defence spending was held above 1.75% of GDP benchmark through the second half of the decade and through the first half of the 2030’s New Zealand would not only be able to afford all of its Future 2035 Defence Plan that came out of the 2015 Defence White Paper, but three or more capable frigates and the joint air combat capability (as Part 2 will detail), plus add an extra P-8A and a couple more C-130J’s above the bare bones minimums we have recently acquired. There are programmes within the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) that could assist New Zealand as it is a NATO+5 nation and under the Biden administration the DSCA is looking to be more creative in assisting countries in the Indo-Pacific region who, are struggling to acquire new capabilities. With the clout of Australia in Washington backing us, we should be able to strike a deal to get a modest, yet effective air combat capability over the line. New Zealand would be helping the Anzac nations get that 7th and vital expeditionary air combat squadron just about the time we and our regional partners will very much need it.

New Zealand is likely to be seriously tested as not just as grey zone threats rise, but as geo-strategic competition ramps up across all relevant domains. Possessing combat capabilities in all of these key domains is becoming increasingly an imperative – especially in the merged air-maritime context of the South Pacific. The continuation of a piecemeal force structure approach that treats an air combat capability as a silo output, one that we can pick and chose to have or not to have is long gone. Time, tactics and technology have marched on – along with the deteriorating strategic environment. New Zealand cannot sit by and do nothing with respect to redeveloping an air combat capability, yet we are hindered by the fact that the cost of attempting to rebuild the previous air combat capability model from 25 years ago is too expensive and too hard to do by ourselves.

In my opinion the practical solution is the development of a squadron sized air combat component integrated within the current RAAF Air Combat Wing structure. This can affordably provide New Zealand what it requires to cover our own direct air power needs, but also deliver a timely and appropriate force enabler to our closest and officially only defence ally – Australia. In Part 2 of this opinion piece I will explain in greater detail how it could work. Nevertheless, a redux of a Kiwi air combat component that is integrated into an RAAF strike wing will send a message to all our regional partners from Washington DC to Singapore, from Tokyo and Canberra, that we are once again serious about playing our part in building genuine deterrence capabilities as our contribution to the regional security architecture during this time of increasing geo-political challenges. That we Kiwi’s are becoming self reliant in partnership again and are going to step up and take responsibility in helping to address the strategic vacuum in the South Pacific with a force for good. That we are moving on from being a fading regional ‘soft power’ and looking towards a future as an emerging ‘smart power’ that, upholds the liberal democratic values, fair and free trade, and the rules based global order.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 24, 2022 at 11:35 pm

ON SIMON BRIDGES

Simon Bridges has announced he is leaving Parliament. Trust some Newshub ‘journo’ to speculate (in the Tova O’Brien tradition) that he was going ahead of a scandal about to break. Bridges’ response … if that were so my instinct would be to stay and fight it out. I believe him. I have known SB for over three decades when I was Deputy Chair of the then Auckland Division of the National Party and he was Chair of Young Nationals. Since then we have broken bread together of a number of occasions.

Simon and Natalie along with Emlyn, Harry and Jemima are an incredibly close knit family and I suspect the major reason is his wish to watch and help his kids grow up rather than being an absent Dad. I know too he took a ‘hit’ earlier this year when young Harry was hospitalised following a serious injury that he sustained and that would have got him thinking.. You add into the mix the Bridges has been there and done that and with the rise and rise of Luxon he’s not going to be PM. Finance Minister is great but ….

I certainly can understand why he might wish to carve out a new career outside of politics well he still has time on his side and I wish him and Natalie and the ‘tribe’ all the best for the future. So, a bi-election beckons. National will have to be confident of retaining the seat with a substantially increased majority in the light of recent polls but they can’t take it for-granted and they won’t. You can expect several high caliber candidates to contest the nomination. One thing I’m sure of … despite the media speculation WRP will not contest the seat. If he has any thoughts of mounting a come-back in 2023 they would be well and truly dashed were he to stand and lose. Bob Clarkson did him like a dinner back in the 2005 election and WRP wimped out of challenging SB for the seat in subsequent elections. Yesterday’s man.

I think too it is instructive that our better caliber of MPs choose to exit on their own terms rather than hang on grimly until the reaper does his thing. All power to their elbows. There are too many drones hanging on in Parliament well beyond their use-by dates

Written by The Veteran

March 15, 2022 at 5:34 pm

Posted in NZ Politics

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ON POLLS

Polls are funny animals. They are but a snapshot in time and you can’t/shouldn’t get overly excited about them other than to look for trends. In this post I will be commenting on the clear trend that has emerged in the last two polls (Roy Morgan and last nights TV One poll) in relation to the five parties represented in our Parliament.

Labour …. Its clear that the halcyon days post the election are well are truly over and while Ardern still commands substantial support among the female demographic its equally clear the tide has turned against Labour. They reaped kudos for the way they initially dealt with Covid acknowledging that they had no songbook to sing from. Decisions were having to be made on the hoof and the electorate cut them a deal of slack in that regard. But having survived the first wave they took their eye off the ball and in the last little they have over-promised and under-delivered on Covid (and any number of other initiatives). In short, the electorate has seen through the talk and little walk that has characterised the Ardern administration.

A stunning example of this (and it perhaps reflected in the TV1 Poll) was Ardern’s refusal to accept there was a cost of living crisis which was the focus of Luxon’s speech. This from a politician who is want to declare a crisis at the drop of a hat (climate change/child poverty etc). Everyone knows the inflation Genie is out of the bottle caused, in part, by quantitative easing coupled with low quality government spending and all Ardern could point to was the intention to raise benefits by 7% on 1 April. Well, colour me stupid and yes, genuine beneficiaries need to be compensated for COL increases but those on benefits are hardly the productive sector with many businesses struggling to make a buck and the LCI for all salary and wage rates (including overtime) increasing by just 2.6% in 2021 against inflation at 5.9%. And the March 2022 quarter will see another substantial rise in inflation which is now predicted to hit 7.4% in the June quarter (and I think that’s on the low side with the cost of Russia’s war yet to be fully priced in and news today that food prices in February were up 6.8% compared with February 2021).

Both Covid and inflation are Labour’s problem. The electorate is increasingly sick (no pun intended) of one and concerned about the other. The chickens are coming home to roost.

National … will take heart from the result. They’re clearly back in the game under Luxon. I’m aware there may be some residual discontent in caucus about his leadership style coming as he does (as did Key) from the corporate sector. Some low energy MPs will feel threatened (and so they should be). But nothing can detract from the rise National has enjoyed in the polls. Clearly Luxon is determined to take the fight to Labour on the ground of his own choosing (old military maxim) … the economy. Expect law and order and separatism to feature too in the coming months. Covid not much, best left to Labour who control all the levers.

Greens … the Greens too will be buoyed by the result. Their vote is holding up and they are attracting left leaning Labour supporters who see Ardern et al as failing to meet expectations. Their prize in a Labour/Greens/Te Pati Maori administration … Deputy Prime Minister and seats around the cabinet table able to push their agenda forcefully working with Te Pati Maori.

ACT … has taken a hit but you can fairly argue it is an artificial hit. The 18% they registered last year was more a reflection of the then state of National. I expect the ACT Party vote to stabalise in the 8-10% range. They will be an important voice in the direction of any new National/ACT administration. One other matter (and I tread carefully). I’m aware there is a certain level of discontent among some previously high profile ACT members (the NK’s and Rodney Hide’s of this world) with the leadership of David Seymour. Get over it guys …. understand the 80/20 rule that exists in politics. You can’t be 100% ‘pure’ 100% of the time.

Te Pati Maori … labelled in the poll as ‘Kingi’ makers. Incorrect. Te Pati Maori of today ain’t the Maori Party of Dame Tariana Turia or Te Ururoa Flavell of yesteryear. National will have no truck with them representing, as they do, radical Maori dedicated to separatism in all its forms. So all they can do is to go with Labour and the Greens or sit on the cross-benches and really the second option is no option. In order to get there they will have to win again the Waiariki seat which they hold by less than 1.000 votes. I expect Labour to campaign hard in order to win it back for all sorts of reasons. Problem for Labour is that List MP Tamati Coffey who lost the seat in 2020 is widely seen as a dilettante (among other things). Will Labour have the balls to run with a serious candidate?

Here endith the gospel according to The Veteran.

Written by The Veteran

March 11, 2022 at 3:26 pm

Posted in NZ Politics

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